Athens Digest 04.09.2018

• Growth dent in second quarter

• Wikileaks stokes controversy over FYROM name deal

• Islands cut off for another day as ferry strike extended

• Labour minister signs extension of sectoral wage deals

• Vasso Kindi, Professor of Philosophy, comments on the new university entrance system

# Growth in the Greek economy slowed in the second quarter of 2018, expanding by just 0.2 percent on the quarter, compared with an improvement 0.9 percent rate in the first three months of the year. Releasing preliminary data, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said the economy in Q2 had grown by 1.8 percent on the year, down from a strong 2.5 percent in the previous three-month period. The figures _ the first since Greece ended the bailout _ were seen as disappointing due to weak investment. Consumption was up by 0.5 percent and exports grew by 3.9 percent, but investment was flat. The European Commission expects the Greek economy to grow by 1.9 percent in 2018 and by 2.3 percent in 2019 _ roughly in line with Greek budget predictions of 2 percent growth this year.

# Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis renewed a promise to oppose Greece’s name deal with FYROM, after a confidential US Embassy cable published by Wikileaks suggested that the Skopje government would have accepted the same terms _ renaming the republic as North Macedonia _ a decade ago. The cable, Mitsotakis said, provided “tragic confirmation” that the government had mishandled the negotiations and failed to push Skopje towards a real compromise. Nikos Kotzias, the foreign minister, hit back arguing that previous government in FYROM under conservative prime minister Nikola Gruevski had had no genuine intention of making a compromise.

# A union representing ferry workers has extended its nationwide strike for another 24 hours, cutting off island access until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow, in a bailout-related labour dispute. The Greek Seafarers’ Association, or PNO, is seeking a 5 percent pay rise in an effort to remove restrictions imposed during the country’s three successive adjustment programmes. Ferry operators said as many as 180,000 people were affected by yesterday’s strike held before the end of the peak tourism season and despite pleas from the holiday industry to delay the protest. The dispute is seen as the opening shot in a looming confrontation over labour rights and pay scales lost during the bailout era.

# The labour minister, Effie Achtsioglou, has approved the extension of four sectoral labour agreements, describing the decision as a step towards restoring pre-bailout working rights. The minister signed executive orders for the four sectors in banking, shipping, and tourism that she said covered some 75,000 workers. Speaking on public television after the agreements were signed, Achtsioglou said the government was abiding by its commitments to restore fairness to the labour market. “The end of the bailout is not just something written on a piece of paper,” she said. “It is happening in practice.”

On our Radar: Ignotum per Ignotius
Farewell Latin… and exams. Education Minister Costas Gavroglou announced a long-awaited shake up of Greece’s university entrance system, dropping Latin for sociology while expanding subject groupings in the final stage of high school. Entrance exam results, he said, will not be considered for lower-demand university courses _ triggering a instant pledge by the conservative opposition to scrap planned reforms when next in power. Many experts also appeared critical.

In a statement to the Athens Digest, Vasso Kindi, Professor of Philosophy, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, said:

“The abolition of the entrance exams to higher education institutions was an old personal promise of the current Minister of Education and Religious Affairs and in general of the party of Syriza. Realizing the infeasibility of the proposal when they came to power, they announced instead a plan to allow free access only to departments that are not on demand. These departments will get students not on academic merit but students who just shy away from the competitive exams that lead to the well sought after departments. The plan was also supposed to strengthen the autonomy of the third year of the upper high school (Lyceum) by severing its connection to the university entrance exams. Yet, paradoxically and despite this overt declaration, the Minister of Education announced himself that the third year of the Lyceum will be turned into a preparatory year for the entrance exams. The plan is still very sketchy, not thought through to its details and leaves a lot to be desired in terms of elucidation and documentation. What is more, in a friendly gesture towards the Orthodox Church, it was announced that Religious studies will remain on the highly condensed curriculum as a compulsory course while the replacement of Latin by Sociology deals a blow to classics.”